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Friday, August 21, 2015

Ida cinnabarina

Such a shy plant, this Ida (syn. Sudamerlycastecinnabarina. Its nodding flower faces the ground, the interior visible only to surface dwellers and I had to get down on my hands and knees in the Tropical High Elevation House and gently prop the flower on a Macleania leaf in order to get an eye level view. I was startled to find a bold lip the color of cinnabar.

Cinnabar is the common name of mercuric sulfide, the ore from which mercury is extracted. The bright scarlet mineral was at one time the source of the pigment used in Chinese red lacquer.

Ida cinnabarina is a large terrestrial, or sometimes lithophytic orchid that grows at 1900 to 2600 meters elevation in bright light in Ecuador, Peru, and possibly Colombia. Henry Oakeley, in Lycaste, Ida and Anguloa (2008), states that the flowers secrete nectar from the base of the sepals and from the underside of the lip. 'Streams of small black ants form endless chains collecting the nectar, and in turn it is proposed, protecting the flower from hungry caterpillars.' But the ants are not the pollinators. According to Oakeley, Calaway Dodson reported seeing the flowers visited by Xylocopas (carpenter) bees at BaƱos, Ecuador. Between dusk and midnight, the flowers are said to be fragrant of wintergreen. Looks like I'll be returning after dark to find out.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Cobra

It was like carrying a pet snake into a room full of people. It's always fun bringing this guy, Bulbophyllum grandiflorum, out of the backup greenhouses and into the Orchid Display House. Our Cobra makes friends easily, in spite of its menacing appearance.

The genus Bulbophyllum has been described as the Old World counterpart of the neotropical genus Pleurothallis, at least with regard to pollination. Bulbophyllum species have some of the same lures in their floral tacklebox: waving hairs, mobile appendages, red splashed carrion colors, the odor of decaying flesh. The lures attract flies who pollinate the flowers.

Notice the translucent 'windows' (fenestrations) on the dorsal sepal? Bulbophyllum grandiflorum shares this feature with some unrelated insect-trapping plants like Sarracenia minor, Darlingtonia californica and Nepenthes aristolochiodes. An insect trapped inside the flower (or pitcher) flies toward the light source, crashes into the back and falls toward the pollen source (or digestive juice) below.

Wondering what's inside the flower? Here's a closer look.

The huge sepals are what give this flower its hooded cobra-like appearance. The petals are tiny by comparison. The lip, which has a lovely fringe of purple hairs, is hinged -it is connected to the base of the column by a narrow flexible ligament that allow the lip to tip like a seesaw under the weight of an insect. As the insect redistributes its weight, the lip tips up, slamming the insect against the column and releasing the pollinarium onto the insect's body.

I was surprised to see that the lip flexes not only up and down, but also laterally, as you can see in the photo above. I'm not sure what purpose this serves, if any.

The flower in profile.

Here's the flower with one of the lateral sepals removed. From this angle, you can see that the lip, which has purple spots in its center, is oval and concave like a drum. It is turned slightly away from the viewer. This lateral movement to the right and left was persistent and it was present in all the flowers on this plant.

The genus Bulbophyllum is so large that it has been divided into sections. Bulbophyllum grandiflorum is just one species in Bulbophyllum section Hyalosema. There are more cobras! You can find pictures of them at Jay Pfahl's website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saturday Morning in the Orchid Center

Rhyncholaelia digbyana
The Orchid Center has three full time staff. We work weekends in rotation. Weekend duty always feels like Thanksgiving morning to me: a mad rush to make things perfect because company's coming in three hours! Up before dawn, drive to work in the dark, unlock the greenhouses, water, deadhead, clean up fallen leaves, sweep, fill ponds, water some more, remove faded plants, bring out new plants in time for our first visitors at 9 am. When I'm lucky, there's time for a few early morning pictures.

Anguloa uniflora, one of the Andean Tulip Orchids. The flowers smell like wintergreen
Anguloa flowers appear simultaneously with the new shoots
Lockhartia obtusata, a Braided Orchid from Panama and Colombia. Lockhartia flowers produce oil as a food reward for their bee pollinators
Paphiopedilum volonteanum occurs in Sabah, Borneo
Lockhartia amoena, a Braided Orchid and Brassia arcuigera, a Spider Orchid
Isochilus major in the Tropical High Elevation House. Native to Mexico and Central America
The Orchid Center is wonderfully still and serene in the morning (after 9 am, that is.) Stop by this weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Wolf's Head

The sweet spicy fragrance that hits you upon entering the Orchid Display House comes from this plant, an unnamed Lycomormium species. It is a complex fragrance. To my uneducated nose, it's nutmeg and camphor. An unconventional pairing to me, but appealing to male Euglossine bees, who as pollinators, are entitled to their preferences.

All of the Lycomormium species in our collection are hefty plants when mature, with long (3 ft.) accordion-pleated leaves. Like Stanhopea and Acineta, two other members of the orchid subtribe Stanhopeinae, Lycomormium species produce pendant spikes that grow down through the substrate, so we grow our plants in slatted baskets to allow the spikes to emerge.

So, what's up with the name Lycomormium? Lykos (wolf) and mormo (ghost) is an intriguing combination. Pedro Ortiz, in 'Orchids of Colombia', says that when seen from the front, the column appears to have a pair of teeth projecting from under the anther, giving it the look of a wolf's head. Reichenbach, who named this genus, must have been looking at a type specimen of  L. squalidum with more impressive teeth than our species possesses.

If you're not a Euglossine bee, a Lycomormium can be a right pain to pollinate -like trying to stuff a fat pair of rabbit's ears into a mail slot. It seems to be easier if the flower has been without its anther cap for a day. We grow our plants in a mixture of long-fibered sphagnum and chopped coarse tree fern fiber. A couple of years ago we relocated our Lycomormium baskets to a brighter cooler location next to the wet wall in our back up greenhouses, with good results -stronger plants and more inflorescences.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June Openings

Ah, summer. June is a terrific month to visit the Orchid Center because of the large number and variety of orchids in our permanent collection that are flowering. The Laelia purpurata varieties are the undisputed stars of this month. But there are lots of others.

A perfectly formed Paphiopedilum acmodontum slipper fresh from its morning shower. This seedling is flowering for the first time this year. It has lovely mottled foliage. Acomontum is native to the Philippines.

This Lycomormium species has thick waxy flowers with a sweet spicy fragrance.

Pink and jade. Paphiopedilum liemianum is a Sumatran species that is easy to confuse with P. chamberlainianum and P. glaucophyllum, but is immediately distinguished by its leaf margins, which have short stiff hairs. It grows on limestone at 600 to 1000 meters elevation according to Phillip Cribb. I like the balletic positioning of the petals on this plant.

Lots of orchid excitement this month. Stop by and bring your camera!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Two Beauties

Pleurothallis (syn. Acronia) cyanea
Two of our loveliest Pleurothallids have been flowering simultaneously on the same tree in the Tropical High Elevation House. They make quite a show together.

Pleurothallis (Acronia) calceolaris
Pleurothallis (Acronia) cyanea and P. calceolaris are allied species. Notice how similar the flowers are, apart from their color. Both have a deeply concave synsepal (in the 6 o'clock position), like a broad oval bowl. The lateral petals of the two species are similar in shape, narrowly triangular.

Now compare the dorsal sepals (in the 12 o'clock position) of the two species. The blood red flowers of P. calceolaris have a dorsal sepal that is tall and appears narrow because the margins are reflexed backwards. I like the pebbly (verrucose) texture.

P. cyanea has a dorsal sepal broadly oval in shape and wrinkled in texture. It has a lovely shimmering quality in the sunshine.

P. cyanea and P. calceolaris are both native to Colombia. We grow our plants as epiphytes on trees in the Tropical High Elevation House. We choose a shady location on the moist interior branches of a tree. When we attach an epiphytic orchid to a branch, we use a minimum amount of moss over the roots in order to encourage them to establish directly on the branch rather than in the moss. The downside of using less moss is that the plants need more frequent watering. But that's a small price to pay for increased longevity.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Same to you, Pleurothallis linguifera

From the front, the flower of Pleurothallis (Acronialinguifera appears to be a pretty but otherwise unremarkable example of a "frog." Short column. Apical stigma. Concave dorsal sepal. But I had to laugh when I saw it in profile.

Whoever named this irreverent flower linguifera (tongue-bearing), pretty much nailed it.*  The 'tongue' is the flower's lowermost petal, or lip.

I also like the two lateral petals, which appear to be clasping.

Carlyle Luer treats this taxon as a highly variable species-complex including adonis and linguifera. The distributions of the two taxa and their intermediates overlap, making identification difficult. The plant pictured here has characteristics of both species.

Pleurothallis (Acronialinguifera complex is widely distributed through the Andes, from Colombia through Bolivia. It grows as an epiphyte or as a terrestrial at elevations as high as 3250 meters. You can see our plants flowering now in the Tropical High Elevation House, growing in one of the trees and rooted in live moss on the ground.

Among the "frogs" in our collection that I have pollinated, only this one has refused to set seed. I guess defiance is just part of its character.

*John Lindley in 1859.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pleurothallis titan

What a magnificent plant. Canary yellow flowers with enormous sail like leaves. Pleurothallis (Acronia) titan is one of our most distinctive orchids and one a handful of gigantic pleurothallid species. A mature plant stands about 3' tall. You might mistake the heart shaped leaves for an Anthurium, except for the characteristic "frog" flowers appearing near the top, identifying it as a pleurothallid in the subsection (or section) Macrophyllae-Fasciculatae.

Pleurothallis titan grows as an epiphyte in cloud forests in the western cordillera of Colombia and in Panama at about 1000 to 1300 meters elevation. The species was described by Carlyle Luer in Selbyana in 1977 as Acronia titan.

Our plants flower almost continuously in the Tropical High Elevation House. You can't miss them. They do well as terrestrials in our loose soil medium of fir bark, charcoal and permatill. They also thrive as epiphytes, although their enormous size at maturity can pose problems -they need to be very firmly anchored to a tree.

A couple of plants that I cross pollinated in February are currently bearing capsules. We track and record the maturation data for every capsule we produce. When the capsule begins to split, we will sow the seeds in our lab. We plan to distribute some of the flasks and keep some of the seedlings for our collection.
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